Computers have become essential elements of our daily lives – when they break down, so do we. PC Advisor looks at the best places to turn for the critical support that can get our systems up and running again. We explain warranties, offer simple call-centre tips, compare repair firms and show you where to go for online advice.

Four years ago, I was considering an interesting-sounding business partnership. We'd talked it through on the phone, agreed it had merit and decided to meet up at my place for a proper chat about how his invention would work and how I'd fulfil my end of the bargain on the marketing side. We planned to spend an hour or two trawling the web for startups with similar ideas and generally doing our research.

So it was that I opened the door to my friendly, 50-ish would-be business partner, gave him a coffee, dispensed with the small talk and turned on my PC, ready to talk money. My gunk-laden system whirred and groaned into life, but the internet connection failed to catch fire. No matter what I did to restart the router, confirm my broadband settings and check for service issues, the PC was no longer able to get online. Something was clearly very wrong with it.

That's pretty much where my career as an entrepreneur ended. No PC, no investment – and no nice kickback. I was stuck with a virus-infected system and a load of hassle.

Computer problems can strike without warning – my PC, for instance, had been working perfectly well the night before. When they do, the effect can be disastrous.

In hindsight, of course, there were almost certainly telltale signs, and I should have been more careful about checking the effectiveness of my security setup. An antivirus application alone wasn't enough to stave off the might of the Sasser worm (in my defence, it was a new and almost unknown threat at the time) and the settings on my firewall were somewhat lax.

Thankfully, I was able to talk an understanding neighbour into letting me use his PC to access my computer remotely and undo the damage from the safety of a few doors' distance. Like any other PC user, I was keen to troubleshoot my own problems rather than head down the route of spending hours on hold to a tech support line, wondering whether they'd even be able to help when I eventually got through.

Many of us speak the words ‘tech support' through gritted teeth. I certainly wasn't hopeful, following experiences with BT trying and failing to troubleshoot a dodgy broadband connection.

NEXT PAGE: Getting help

  1. What to do, where to turn when your PC dies
  2. Getting help
  3. Have you got a warranty for that?
  4. To extend or not to extend
  5. Private lines: tech support
  6. Written response, and request a callback
  7. Charm school, remote assistance and online angels
  8. Home support - BT Home IT Support
  9. Home support - Dell Presto
  10. Home support - Geek Squad
  11. Home support - The Tech Guys
  12. Calmer computing
  13. Fantastic forums
  14. Restoration comedy
  15. Is Linux next in line?